I am completely speechless with the stunningly incredible novel that is Block 46.
Described as ‘a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller’, Johana Gustawsson has written a novel that has quite literally left me bewildered.
I jumped at the opportunity to join the blogtour with publisher Orenda Books and I feel quite honoured to share my review with you today.
I sincerely hope I do it justice…
Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina.
Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds.
Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.
Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?
Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case.
They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.
I am going to begin my review with a quote from the foreward that Johana has included in Block 46. It is a quote taken from Eugen Kogon, a historian and a survivor of the Holocaust
‘There is nothing positive to say about the depths through which I wandered for seven years, surrounded by the blind and the damned who raged like souls possessed against all that remained of human dignity’
Powerful words that hold such meaning from someone who was there…..
Block 46 is a novel that highlights a period of time I always seem to be very drawn to in literature. The Holocaust and the heinous and unforgivable atrocities that were carried out there, in the name of a madman, are brought to life for the reader through the most vivid descriptions and narrative I think I have ever read.
Johana Gustawsson, with the assistance of the excellent translation by Maxim Jakubowski, takes the reader on a journey from modern day London and Sweden to the death camp of Buchenwald.
Linnea Blix, renowned jewellery designer, is about to launch her most prestigious campaign yet, with a collection of jewels for Cartier at their New Bond Street store. Her friend, French crime writer Alexis Castells, is due to attend the event in support of her friend but on arrival, it’s obvious something is amiss.
Linnea had purchased a ‘bolt-hole’ in Falkenberg, Swedan, a sanctury for her to escape the intensity of her super-charged London lifestyle. It was from here Linnea was due to arrive into London from. but she fails to turn up as scheduled, which immediately raises concerns.
A mutilated body is discovered in Falkenberg and to the horror of Alexis it is the body of Linnea.
In the meantime a similar discovery is made of a young boy’s body in London.
Seemingly unrelated, until it is noted that both suffered similar terrifying deaths with both bodies having the same carved markings.
The arrival of Emily Roy on the scene, a profiler with a reputation for getting results, leaves no doubt that this is a case that potentially has huge consequences, with the possibility of a serial killer been responsible for these murders.
The reader is quite visually transported back to Buchenwald, 1944
‘None of this made any sense. The journey. The dead. The cruelty. The music. The Naked bodies. No one even tried to conceal their nudity any longer, as if each and every one of them had already abdicated their humanity. And above all reigned the silence…..The man from the train had been right. It was indeed hell that was greeting them at the end of their journey. But a thoroughly well-organised hell’
These are the thoughts of Erich Ebner as he arrives off the trains into Buchenwald. Arrested as an activist, Erich is thrown into the most hostile and vile of situations where every breath he takes will possibly be his last. Stripped of his humanity, it soon becomes obvious to Erich that in order to survive he must endure. It is a question of how much he can endure and how much he is willing to sacrifice to live, that faces Erich on a daily basis.
Here’s an important fact. As I read the descriptions of the barbaric acts that were committed in Buchenwald, my stomach churned with feelings of pure disgust and horror. What I did not know until I had completed the book was that Johana Gustawsson’s grandfather, Simon Lagunas, was a survivor and one of many courageous individuals involved in the resistance within the camp and subsequently it’s liberation on 11th April 1945. 56,000 victims lost their lives there but for those who survived the memories now live on through the generations.
In Block 46, although a fictional story, Johana has paid tribute to these strong people, keeping their story alive.
The impact of the damage done to lives is told here as we follow history from 1944 to the present day.
Emily Roy and Alexis Castells are a new pairing in crime fiction, as their investigative prowess comes together in an almost organic manner. They work well as a team and it is through their individual attention to details and their lack of fear for their own safety that makes for a great partnering and the potential for an amazing new series.
Johana Gustawsson is a new voice in French Noir. Her ability to bring the reader on such a vivid journey, leaving you bewildered, appalled yet longing for more, is a testament to her skill as a writer.
Karen Sullivan, publisher of Orenda Books, wrote an excellent post recently on why ‘Violence serves a profound purpose in Block 46′ which I recommend you read over at Anne Cater’s Blog Random Things Through My Letterbox In it Karen explains with great clarity the reasons behind the explicit violence that is displayed in Block 46.
Block 46 is not a book for all. It is disturbing. The acts committed are very graphic. It is a book that deals with evil and leaves the reader asking the question – Is someone born evil or does society create evil? It is a book that will leave you speechless and quite disturbed, horrified and traumatised, yet wanting more. I feel very strongly about this book and I so hope it gets all the accolades it deserves.
I’ll leave you with one final quote from the book
‘Block 46, the antechamber to death’
Purchase Link ~ Block 46
Born in 1978 in Marseille and with a degree in political science, Johana Gustawsson has worked as a journalist for the French press and television. She married a Swede and now lives in London.
She was the co-author of a bestseller, On se retrouvera, published by Fayard Noir in France, whose television adaptation drew over 7 million viewers in June 2015.
She is working on the next book in the Roy & Castells series.